ISLAMABAD -- Construction of the Pakistan portion of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline is set to begin in March, with the Pakistani army prepared to ensure the security of the project, officials say.
The army has agreed to protect TAPI infrastructure in Pakistan, Duriya Amir, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy Petroleum Division, told Pakistan Forward.
"Now the security of the mega gas pipeline project in Pakistan will be the responsibility of the military," she said.
Officials from the four countries involved in TAPI ceremonially broke ground on the Afghan section of the pipeline last February.
The pipeline will enter Pakistan from the Chaman border crossing with Afghanistan and move towards Multan in Punjab Province before ending close to Fazilka in Punjab State, India, Amir said.
"A groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of this project in [Pakistan] is being performed either in March or April this year," she said.
Funding the project
The survey of the project has already been completed and construction of the Pakistani segment will begin in the first quarter of 2019, confirmed Muhammetmyrat Amanov, chief executive of the TAPI Pipeline Co., based in Turkmenistan.
The 1,814-km-long pipeline will supply 33 billion cubic feet of gas daily from the Galkynysh gas field of Turkmenistan once completed, he said at an event in Islamabad on December 6 organised by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI).
The TAPI project will not only meet the energy requirements of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India but will promote regional connectivity and economic development, he said.
The project will be completed in two phases with a revised cost of $7 billion, he said. The first phase will consist of laying the pipeline, while in the second phase crews will install six compressors to ensure the smooth supply of gas.
The budget for the first phase will be finalised by March, and that step will pave the way for laying the pipeline, he said.
German, Italian and Turkish companies have submitted bids for the pipeline's construction, Amanov said.
The Islamic Corporation for the Insurance of Investment and Export Credit has confirmed $300 million in lending, while the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has guaranteed $500 million.
"The ADB has announced $1 billion in financing for the construction of this gas project," Faisal Khan, a spokesperson for the bank in Islamabad, told Pakistan Forward.
The second tranche of $500 million will be provided once the project has spent the initial sum for the first phase, he said.
Security in Pakistan
Security of the TAPI project is a paramount issue and cannot be ignored, ISSI Chairman Ambassador (ret.) Khalid Mahmood said during the December 6 event.
Improvements in the relationships between Pakistan and Afghanistan and between Pakistan and India have been essential in ensuring the smooth implementation of the TAPI project, he said.
The Taliban and Iran are two other security concerns, said Abdullah Khan, managing director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.
The militant group is extorting large sums of money from some countries that have invested billions of dollars in various infrastructure projects in Afghanistan in exchange for not targeting them, he said.
"The TAPI project could be another big source of money-making for the Taliban in Afghanistan," he told Pakistan Forward.
"There are some reports that Iran wants to sabotage the TAPI project, but it would depend on the approach of the Taliban," he said.
Afghanistan has announced the establishment of a 7,000-strong force to protect the TAPI project, but Khan expressed concern that it will not be sufficient to protect the pipeline, which will cross Herat and Kandahar provinces -- both Taliban strongholds.
In Pakistan, the pipeline could face terrorist threats from Taliban militants in the Zhob and Loralai areas of Balochistan as well as from various banned militant outfits in southern Punjab, he said.
Nonetheless, the Pakistani army has shown it is capable of protecting the project from terrorist threats, Khan said, adding that a 45% decline in militant attacks in Pakistan in 2018 indicates that the military has a tight control on security.